Ken Keating, who turned 80 last year, looks back on his successful 65 years in the trucking industry. Tamara Whitsed writes
KEN KEATING loves working with his children and grandchildren at Keating Freight Lines, Shepparton. The company specialises in Victorian freight, and Ken has never regretted his decision to turn his back on interstate runs.
The 80-year-old has been trucking since he was 15. He began his career at Bendigo, Victoria, specialising in furniture removal in the early 1950s. In those early years he drove for several Bendigo transport operators including his brother Ray Keating.
Ken owned a WC22 White for a while, carted livestock for Fitzpatricks of Charlton, and drove for Streets Ice Cream, where he was promoted to a management role.
His attention shifted to interstate transport when he established and managed Zurcas Trucking in 1967.
His long association with Geoffrey Thompson Fruit Packing Company began when he bought its small trucking division. Later Ken formed a partnership with the fruit packing company and in time he became a shareholder of the parent company. Throughout the 1970s Ken expanded the interstate fleet.
But when Ken and his late wife Dorothy founded Ken Keating Freight Lines at Shepparton in 1982, Ken was determined his four trucks wouldn’t spend much time outside Victoria.
“We just ran Shepparton, Melbourne, Albury, and distributed along Northern Victoria,” Ken says.
Looking back to the first years of the company, Ken says Keating Freight Lines would not be where it is today without Dorothy’s input.
“To make it work, my wife was in the office and driving a forklift, loading trucks and everything.” Sadly, Dorothy passed away in 1998.
When their four children – Stephen, Chris, Mark and Karen – began working at the company, Ken strengthened his resolve not to take on interstate work.
“I’d done interstate and I didn’t want the boys to be involved in interstate,” he says.
Today the Shepparton business has 21 trucks. Sixteen rigid Isuzus are used for local distribution. Ken’s 15 prime movers, including 13 Scanias, run as singles and B-doubles.
The prime movers take refrigerated and general freight to Melbourne and Shepparton daily. They also deliver to Victorian towns such as Cobram, Echuca, Kyabram, Mooroopna, Numurkah, Tatura, Wangaratta, Wodonga and Yarrawonga. Ken’s trucks usually only cross into New South Wales to deliver to border communities like Moama and Albury. Ken employs more than 30 people.
“We have probably the best group anywhere,” he says of his employees.
Many have stayed with the company through to retirement. “We don’t advertise for drivers.” Ken has a list of people who want to work for the company when a position becomes vacant – drivers keen to work for a family business which provides modern trucks and doesn’t send them interstate.
Sometimes people ask Ken how he manages to attract and keep drivers.
“Look after them and pay them right and you won’t have any trouble,” he says.
Ken has clocked up 65 years in the
“My wife was in the office and driving a forklift, loading trucks and everything”
industry and continued working after most of his contemporaries retired.
Through until his late 70s he started each workday at 5.30am, loading trucks and doing local deliveries. Even now, approaching his 81st birthday, he still works in the office part-time.
DECADES OF SCANIAS
Ken began buying Scanias in 1972. He has bought 95 of them since then.
“They’re getting pretty popular now. They’re everywhere,” says Ken, who test-drove Scanias for several years.
He says trucks have come a long way since the 1950s.
“Firstly, you haven’t got the loud noise that affects your ears. [The
Scanias] all maintain uphill speed.” And most of the Scanias in his fleet are automatic.
Ken replaces his Scanias after about three-and-a-half years and Scania takes care of the repairs under a maintenance program. Ken believes this is the best way to ensure his fleet is safe and compliant.
Scania performs Keating Freight Lines’ driver training too. New and experienced drivers enjoy the challenge of improving their scores on the Scania driver support printouts.
Ken, who married his second wife Maureen in 2009, takes a keen interest in his receiving depot at Campbellfield, in Melbourne’s North, and the seven warehouses which have been built on his 30 acres at Lemnos, near Shepparton.
All three of his sons work for Keating Freight Lines. Chris is general manager, Stephen is operations manager, and Mark recently stepped into Ken’s role – which includes driving and overseeing the local drivers.
Several of Ken’s grandchildren work there too. Ashley is employed full-time. Ross began his mechanic apprenticeship at Keatings but is finishing it at Taig’s, where his grandfather’s trucks are serviced. Matthew and William work at Keating Freight Lines part-time when they are not studying.
Ken is proud of his modern fleet, but he has kept a few older trucks for sentimental reasons.
His son Mark spent two years restoring a 1966 International R200 which Ken bought 34 years ago. In the 1980s, Ken used the R200 for local deliveries. He loaned it to a friend for a while, and it sat at Keating’s Shepparton yard for several years before Mark stripped it back to the chassis.
Mark finished the restoration just in time for Ken’s 80th birthday last July.
HALL OF FAME
Last August, Ken travelled to Alice Springs where he was inducted to the National Road Transport Hall of Fame. He shared the honour with his father William, who was inducted posthumously.
William began carting furniture with a horse and cart in 1915 and bought the family’s first truck – a new Chevrolet – in 1927.
Four Keatings have now been inducted to the Hall of Fame.
Ken’s older brother, the late Ray Keating, was inducted in 2008 after spending 58 years in the industry. For much of this time, Ray was based at Swan Hill.
His younger brother, Brian Keating, was inducted in 2010. Brian began his own business in 1970 with a Dodge truck and now operates Keating’s Transport from Bendigo with his wife and children.
With two generations of Keatings working at Keating’s Transport, and three generations working at Keating Freight Lines, we can expect to see the Keating name on trucks and trailers for many years to come.
“Look after them and pay them right and you won’t have any trouble”
in originally specialised The Keating family Bendigo furniture removal in
The Keating family has been in the trucking industry since the 1920s
Ken Keating and his brother with Ken’s Internation Brian Keating Road al R200 at Transport the National Hall of Fame
the Lines’ Scanias trucked One of Keating Freight when Ken was to the Northern Territory International R200 of Fame inducted to the Hall
Ken drove his Mercedes to the Melbourne and Sydney markets
Ken and his late wife Dorothy, who worked in the office and operated forklifts to help establish Keating Freight Lines
(From left) Mark, Chris and Steve Keating work at Keating Freight Lines with their father Ken
(From left) William Keating with his trucking sons Ray, Ken and Brian